For weather watchers in southwestern B.C., 2015 was the Year of the Blob.
Formally called the Pacific decadel oscillation, The Blob was a large patch of warm water that sat off Vancouver Island and deflected rainy low pressure systems northward.
For upwards of six months, The Blob – as named by meteorologists seeking to explain it to the public – brought hot, dry conditions that shattered records, prompted water restrictions, and challenged farmers.
“It was the main weather driver for the first half of this year,” Environment Canada meteorologist Lisa Coldwells said.
The average temperature at Environment Canada’s Abbotsford weather station was 1.5 C above normal for the year and from massive wind storms to an absence of weather that was itself remarkable, 2015 provided plenty of reason to keep tabs on what was going on in the skies above.
The Blob, which returns every 10 years or so, made its presence felt early in 2015, delivering a warm February that may have been the warmest on record. And although neither February nor March were particularly dry, that would quickly change as The Blob grew in size.
“The spring was exceptionally dry,” Coldwells said.
Precipitation in April was only half of normal, and The Blob was only getting started. Abbotsford experienced its driest May on record, with short rain spells on four days amounting to less than 10 per cent of normal precipitation. And June was just as dry – and warm to boot. With temperatures 3.1 C higher than normal and precipitation just 16 per cent of normal, more records fell.
And while the public was revelling in the good weather, farmers were feeling the effects. The heat had condensed the berry season, meaning that harvests that were normally spaced out were all ripening at approximately the same time. There were also burgeoning worries about the valley’s water supply, with levels at Dickson Lake decreasing faster than expected and the city implementing restrictions on use. Firefighters were also kept busy as brush fires were frequently started alongside the area’s roadways.
As the warm weather continued through July, Stage 3 water restrictions were implemented. The month saw the year’s highest temperature – 36.3 C on July 5. Meanwhile, Abbotsford had been blanketed by heavy smoke from wildfires in Washington, sparking an air quality advisory from Fraser Health as fine particulate matter in the Lower Mainland hit record levels.
Finally, in late July, after three more weeks of bone-dry weather, the region’s thirst was quenched, at least in part. Over three days – July 24, 25 and 26 – the city received more rain than in the three previous months combined, with around 50 millimetres of rain dumped on Abbotsford.
By August, “the big blob of warm water began to break up,” Coldwells said. “And the whole pattern came crashing to an end on Aug. 29.”
On that day, fierce winds ripped through the area, with gusts topping out at 95 kilometres an hour, leaving tens of thousands without power in the Lower Mainland and Island.
Then The Blob moved on, with the warm water dissipating and the high pressure system that had been shielding the coast moving east towards Alberta.
The last few months have seen a return to more normal weather patterns, although November, Coldwells said, “was a series of storm after storm after storm.”
Two of those – on Nov. 17 and 24 – brought winds that hit 83 km/h and 76 km/h, respectively, and knocked out power to BC Hydro customers.
December, meanwhile, has been warmer and wetter than normal.
Last week also marked the first substantial snowfall in Abbotsford in nearly a year.
Next year will see another weather phenomenon leave its mark. El Nino, a river of warm oceanic water along the equator which typically brings warmer-than-normal weather to southwestern B.C., will return in 2016, likely towards the end of January. El Nino, which comes every seven years or so, is forecast to last into the early spring, dissipating in May or June as summer rolls in.
Coldwells said its distance from B.C. partly means that while El Nino will bring warmer temperatures, they aren’t likely to hit the sustained highs of last year.